Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique - Gatti
RCO live RCO 16006 (2 discs)
Classical - Orchestral
Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam
Daniele Gatti (conductor)
With the release of this live recording of Hector Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique, RCO Live celebrates the start of its collaboration with Daniele Gatti as the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra's seventh chief conductor on 9 September 2016. His unconventional take on this spectacular score evokes the astonishment audiences must have experienced at the time of the 1830 premiere. It is exactly this sense of surprise and freshness – founded on a thorough knowledge of the score – and the sheer joy of making music together that prompted the members of the RCO to choose Daniele Gatti as their new chief conductor.
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Review by John Broggio - September 15, 2016
This disc is being released to mark the commencement of Gatti's tenure as Music Director with the Concertgebouw and, like Berg: Lulu Suite, 3 Orchestral Pieces - Gatti, this relationship is already very special.
In terms of heritage, the Concertgebouw have this music in their blood and have recorded it with Sir Colin Davis (Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique - Davis) and although the characteristic of the acoustic is retained, Gatti's conception is a worthy successor yet also rather different. The first difference of note is that Gatti chooses, like Ticciati (Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique - Ticciati), to place the violins antiphonally which serves to clarify string textures throughout the work. The second, arguably the most noticeable, difference is that the first introduction of the idee fixe is given a great deal of space: in Gatti's own words from the booklet "And so I took the tempo just a little bit slower there." This decision is, to these ears, something of an understatement but one to which the listener quickly adjusts. After the double bar, the idee fixe is transferred to the violas, cellos and basses whereupon Gatti gives a rather unusual take on the dynamic instructions which is far more disconcerting than the earlier relaxation of the tempo. Generally though, the textural balances are marvellously clean and one would never guess that this recording emanated from concert performances.
Un bal is a delight to the ear from beginning to end. In part this is because Gatti elects to reduce the strings section but mainly it is the marvellously rich, sensitive playing that really gives the aural impression of dew glistening in the morning sun. Like Ticciati, Gatti opts not to include the optional cornet parts and the only other aspect that some may find troubling is the near complete smoothing over of the glissandi specified in the violins. Gatti springs a surprise with the very final chord, opting to deliver a feminine ending to the movement.
The sense of distance in third movement between the cor anglais and oboe is extraordinary, with Gatti encouraging a "pure sound". The balancing of flute and violins is wonderfully sensitive to each section and the contrasting timbres tease the ear delightfully. The RCO sound constantly engaged by Gatti's direction and this is very persuasive music making indeed. More is made of the sf markings than either Ticciati or Davis in the central section allied to a nuanced use of vibrato and tone in the strings to magical effect. When the storm arrives, Gatti and the percussionists take tremendous care to ensure that every single note is audible; this is wonderfully managed by all concerned.
The march to the scaffold starts atmospherically with stopped horns taking on an appropriately sinister timbre. The early string tutti is made to be infused with gallows humour in the form of a show of musical bravado, with the wind & brass interjections somberly pricking the pomposity. The grand march is a joy to the ear, obviously because of the efforts of Gatti and RCO but also because of the absolutely first class recording. If there is any criticism to be made, it is that the upper woodwind in the lead up to the "execution" are not quite as prominent as one might wish. For once, one can hear the rising arpeggiated chords in the violins at the very end - very impressive from all involved.
The last movement contains some exemplary dynamic contrasts and Gatti, after the opening spine-tingling effects, is not one to hang around - the pause between the two Allegro sections leading to the Dies Irae is used (only) to clear the air, musically speaking. Unusually, Gatti opts to have the bells struck at a volume in accord with the rest of the orchestra rather than the sometimes enhanced dynamics afforded to them; it's a refreshing change. The witches sabbath is full of all the characteristics described above and there were moments where the performance evoked thoughts (in terms of textural clarity and musical excitement) of Abbado's extraordinary achievements in Mahler with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra. As the fugal writing gradually builds Gatti's inspired direction continually achieves wonderful textural balances, incredible clarity at every turn, extraordinary dynamic range and to cap it all, a great unified response from the RCO.
As already hinted at, the recording served up here is nothing short of sensational. It's scarcely credible from the lack of audience noise that this derives from concert performances, the clarity is astounding (even for this hall) and the reflection of the playing in the dynamic range is simply wonderful. Added to this, we have a very well conducted (sorry) interview with Gatti as he describes his approach to this inexhaustible masterpiece.
This is simply outstanding music making and one can quite see why this collaboration became the prelude to their longer term relationship; better yet, the recording is as good as the performance.
Copyright © 2016 John Broggio and HRAudio.net